In all the client counseling I have done of late, and in my own life, what has become most clear to me is the way in which Queer people especially (all people, though, to some degree) have been forced to build emotional shells and suits of armor to protect ourselves from abuse, rejection, and simple alienation in a world that is sex-negative and predominantly homophobic.
We all protect our vulnerability. That is of course necessary. However, we can lose our ability to distinguish between moments of genuine threat and neutral time, time when we are unthreatened. In fact we stop looking to see if the threat has abated. In those times we remain in our defensive posture.
When self-protection takes the form of addictive behavior – meaning some form of out-of-control self-medication to stop the pain – it is known in the 12-step world that you can't recover until you stop using or acting out. All the possibility for spiritual growth lies on the other side of not drinking, not using, not acting out. Recovery (spiritual growth) starts with chemical or behavioral sobriety.
Even if we're not caught in classically addictive behavior, self-defensive postures can become habitual. We fend off any possible engagement that involves our being or feeling vulnerable. At that point, we're frozen in time. We stop growing in that moment, and we won't grow again until we thaw out and soften up.
I'm not saying there aren't threats out there in the world. If we are without armor we certainly risk being hurt. If we stay perpetually frozen, though, we risk a sort of emotional “freezer burn.” We won't just stay fixed in ice; our spirits actually suffer more damage. If we dare to be warm, we again become open to God's healing.
My prayer: May we know that it is safe to be soft. May we not fear tripping up or falling down. May we remember, we have more to gain by being vulnerable than we do by being perpetually self-protective. May we know that God is with us and that we need not fear.
"Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?"
(Matthew 6:27, New International Version)